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ALCUDIA, Spain (VN) — From the outside, everything looked the same around Team Sky’s off-season home on Spain’s Mallorca island. A low-slung winter sun warmed the white sandy beach. With almost no tourists, the local roads and mild winter weather make for an ideal headquarters for the team. So much so, Team Sky boss Dave Brailsford has been bringing cyclists here for more than 15 years.
Yet the 2015 season is a very new one in many regards for the British team. It marks a season of transition and departure. No longer is the squad the new kid on the block. No longer do they have a monopoly on cutting-edge training techniques, especially with rival teams hiring away their coaches and staff. Team icon Bradley Wiggins is on the way out.
It met its goal of winning the Tour de France within five years with a British rider. In fact, twice, at least if you count Chris Froome as a Brit. Yet in many ways, Team Sky has to prove itself all over again. And that’s just fine for Brailsford.
“When we started out five years ago, people kind of rolled their eyes,” Brailsford told a group of journalists on Sunday. “We’ve had a good five years, we’ve accomplished a lot, but at a certain point, you have to ask yourself, where do you go from here?”
Reinvention. That’s the buzz inside the Team Sky camp going into 2015. They won back-to-back yellow jerseys, with two separate riders, a feat only equalled three other times in the past 30 years. That’s heady stuff, but Brailsford isn’t content to sit on his laurels.
Looking ahead, Brailsford and his brain trust are calling it Project 2020, a five-year plan to set new goals, reconfirm its established strengths, and push and prod them to stay at the top of the game. They know complacency will doom them to failure.
“You have to have it in your DNA to improve,” he continued. “We’d like to have the second five years be better than the first five years.”
How does Brailsford hope to do that? Beyond some external goals, such as promoting cycling in the UK as well as introducing the science accrued over the years on the road to the larger cycling population, he wants to broaden the scope of the team’s goals and accomplishments.
The GC focus remains firmly intact. Froome will be racing to win and avenge the disappointment from 2014. The team will bring solid support for Froome, including new arrivals, such as Wout Poels, Leopold Konig, and Nicolas Roche.
“We clearly didn’t perform in 2014 at the same [level]. Injuries and illnesses were part of it, but there were certain areas where the performance clearly wasn’t there,” Brailsford said. “To win the Tour de France was all we dreamed of, and all we talked about, but sustaining success is very different than going for it the first time.”
As the team enters its second five years, Brailsford said he’s taken inspiration from legendary Manchester United coach Alex Ferguson, who built one winning team after another with new players in the span of his 26-year coaching career at the soccer powerhouse. New generation, new athletes. It’s harder than it sounds.
For 2015, the team core largely remains intact. Four riders leave — Edvald Boasson Hagen (MTN-Qhubeka), Dario Cataldo (Astana), Joe Dombrowski (Cannondale-Garmin), and Josh Edmondson — and six new arrivals, including Andrew Fenn and Wouter Poels (from Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Lars Petter Nordhaug (from Belkin), Leopold Konig (from NetApp-Endura), Nicholas Roche (from Tinkoff-Saxo), and Elia Viviani (from Cannondale).
With Wiggins on the way out, Froome and his peers are more than ready to step up to fill the void. In fact, they already have, but Wiggins’ departure, following what will be his final race at Paris-Roubaix, will mark the next chapter in what Brailsford hopes will be a long story at Team Sky.
Beyond that, Brailsford’s ambitions have widened to include the classics and sprints, two disciplines that were somewhat neglected with the team’s singular focus and obsession on the yellow jersey.
“We see some opportunities in the monuments and classics,” he said. “We have to get one of those on our palmares.”
On paper, the team is still thin on the classics front. It lost its top classics rider, Edvald Boasson Hagen, to MTN-Qhubeka jersey for 2015. Ian Stannard, Geraint Thomas, and Ben Swift are ready to fill the void. And then there’s Wiggins, and his final Sky ride across the cobblestones at Paris-Roubaix. Viviani, meanwhile, gives the team a new edge in the sprints.
Brailsford knows that other teams have been watching, learning, and, in some cases, hiring away their former sport directors and coaches. As a result, Simon Jones, former coach at British Cycling, joined the team to help shake things up.
“Our challenge is to stay ahead of the game,” he said. “We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about that. Winning is the final outcome, but it’s the striving that really motivates us. It would be easier and way more comfortable to sit with the same people, and keep doing what we’re doing. The danger is that we get into a danger zone. We need some new devil’s advocates.”
The team achieved more than anyone could have imagined in its first five years. Brailsford, however, clearly won’t be content with anything less than surpassing expectations yet again.